11 August, 2014

Tear down and processing are going smoothly so far! We actually haven’t quite finished, as we are waiting for the soil to dry before sieving. But, we’ve done most of it. Here is a breakdown of what we’ve done so far!

First, we photographed each pot with our benthic camera, which senses the infrared wavelengths of chlorophyll pigments and makes them show up as red in the photo. This gives us a visual estimation of the amount of chlorophyll in the photo subject.

Once we had taken an above and side shot of each of the 60 pots, we set up a processing station in the wet lab. We are using multiple parameters to measure growth response in the grasses, one of which is plant height. The following photos show some of the plants and the obvious differences in growth between pots that had midges added to them (right side, “M” pots) and pots that didn’t (left side, “C” pots).  The numbers on each label (1-4) represent my four precipitation levels. 1 pots received 10 ml of water, 2 got 25 ml, 3 got 35 ml, and 4 received 50 ml of water on watering days.

Another parameter we’ll be measuring is aboveground biomass. For this, we clipped the grass off at soil level, and are dry weighting them for comparison between pots.

Here, Kyle is pulling apart the soil of the pots to remove a resin bag from the center. Resin bags were placed in the pots to absorb soil nutrients. They will be taken back to the University of Wisconsin for further processing, which will tell us the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous that accumulated in each of the pots.

Finally, in the coming days, we will be sieving the soil in order to collect the roots from each pot. The roots will be dry weighted and combusted in order to give us a measure of below ground biomass.

I really enjoyed conducting this experiment. It was interesting to see how the plants changed over the weeks, and to see how they responded to their assigned treatment. I think it was a success!

06 August, 2014

Hi, I'm Alena, intern #4. It’s crazy to think that we only have about two weeks left in Iceland! After the whirlwind of experiment setup and sampling that occurred over the past two weeks (including many long days/nights), we have moved on to processing a very long list of resulting samples. It’s come as somewhat of a relief, both for a much-needed lull in the action, and as a refuge from less than ideal field conditions. The forecast for the week promises chilly temperatures and rain clouds. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never to trust an Icelandic forecast… So maybe we’ll get lucky.

In addition to the weather, there are a surprising number of things we've come across in our Icelandic adventures that seem just a bit confused. Here is a list of Icelandic things with varying degrees of identity crises. 

This sheep that thinks it's a dog:

This dog that thinks it's a pillow... (pillow that thinks it's a dog???): 

These pants that think they're waterproof (lies):

This computer that most definitely is not waterproof... on a boat:

This whaling suit that thinks it's an extra small:

This midnight sky that thinks that it's daytime:

All in all, it appears that Iceland is quite confused. 

In other news, my independent project teardown is coming up THIS FRIDAY! I'm doing a green house experiment to assess the response of plant growth to varying levels of precipitation coupled with midge additions. Here's a picture I snapped on one of my recent watering days:

Each pot was given one of four watering treatments, and midges were added to some and excluded from others. The responses are quite obvious if you look closely! Which is exciting! I'll post in further detail after the teardown and processing, but I thought this mosaic was really cool to see. Thanks for reading! Come back read more about how my project turned out!

31 July, 2014

A Quick Recap

Hello again from Myvatn, where we're currently enjoying some balmy, 6 degrees C summer weather.  Now that July is over and we're headed into our last month of field work, it seems like a good time to stop for a quick recap.  This past month was an eventful one in which we started and finished a number of experiments, traveled to remote corners of Iceland, and saw some pretty incredible sights. With a month this varied, perhaps the easiest way to cover everything is with a few pictures of some of the highlights.  So, in no particular order, here's how we spent our July.  Enjoy!

Our July began with a three day vacation where we drove out to the Langanes peninsula, one of Iceland's emptiest corners.
At the tip of the goose-shape peninsula, we found a lighthouse on the edge of a sea cliff.  Much to our surprise, the light house was left unlocked and was open for visitors.  We signed the guest book an had a fun time being blasted by wind at the top of the tower!

The Langanes peninsula was also home to a pretty spectacular seabird colony.  We were lucky enough to see hundreds of puffins, gannets, sawbills and guillemots nesting on the windy cliffs.

A Gannet 


Early on in July, we had a period of extremely stormy weather, right as the lake's ducklings were beginning to hatch.  Sadly, this storm resulted in a lot of lost, dying and dead ducklings.  One lost duckling, however, crossed paths with Arni, the manager of our research station, while he was out on the lake.  With another round of severe weather looming, Arni deemed the duckling too young and weak to survive the night on its own and brought the duckling back to the station.  And with that, we suddenly had a very cute addition to the research station- a baby Husand, also called a Barrow's Goldeneye.

This little guy was just the absolute cutest.  We all loved watching Arni help it learn to dive, preen and forage.  Unfortunately, ducklings are sensitive little creatures and he died after about a week.  We all miss him every day.

Inside the lab, we've been hard at work keeping up with the summer's routine sampling while also carrying out individual experiments.  While a description of all of our individual projects could- and perhaps should- be its own blog post, several of our projects have been based around the creation of mesocosms.  These mesocosms are small, manipulable enclosures that we used to contain midge larvae underwater for up to two weeks at a time.  To make the mesocosms work, however, you have to stock them with a known number of larvae.   Doing this, in turn, requires you to collect sediment from the bottom of the lake, sieve the midges out of the sediment, and then pick the midges out of the resulting goo. After that you pick some more midges.  And then you keep picking midges.  When that's all done, you continue to pick midges.  All told, we hand picked about 24,000 midge larvae, which we then packaged up into happy little mesocosms and promptly put right back into the lake.  While these projects took a huge number of man-hours to set up, they all went smoothly and our preliminary data all looks great!  I am sure that you'll soon be seeing a lot more about what we're finding up on this blog.

On a completely unrelated note, we saw a humpback whale!  It waved hello and jumped around a bit.

Our internet access seems to be having some trouble at the moment, so I'll sign off for the evening.  There were many other highlights to the month of July, which I hope we'll touch on some other time.  For now I'll leave you with two last pictures of our gorgeous Lake Myvatn. While the weather may be subpar at the moment, we've had some great spurts of sunny, beautiful weather this last month.  On a sunny, still day, it's hard to think of a better place in the world to be!

Tak tak, bless bless, and see you all later!
-Michael Drake

06 July, 2014

The Scoop on the Zoops

Hey guys! This is Ashley, another intern on the team this year! I study Ecology at Arizona State University and work in a zooplankton lab. It’s the second month in Iceland and everything’s awesome so far! At this point, most of us are very comfortable with the protocol for the routine sampling so we are getting quicker and the questions for Cristina and Kyle are becoming less stupid. I am gravitating toward counting and identifying zooplankton and it lends itself well to my independent project. I am working with Kyle focusing on the effects midge larvae density has on the benthic zooplankton community structure. It sounds like it wouldn’t be too difficult right? I just have to manipulate midge larvae density in the benthos and see what the zooplankton do. That’s what I thought before I found myself dropping a 40 lb. potato-masher/destruction bomb to the bottom of the lake. Let me explain…
Our big decision was whether to use a mesocosm that guarantees accurate midge larvae density as opposed to a disturbance mechanism that creates a more natural midge larval absence. Tony has been helping me brainstorm some experimental designs and we were pretty jazzed about creating a way to manipulate larvae in a small plot in the benthos. After a go with a rake-like prototype (“RAKE THE LAKE!”) and a large grate with weights (potato-masher), we found through benthic photos that midges recolonize disturbed areas a lot faster than expected. This obfuscated things a bit, but Tony has me convinced that with some futzing, this design has some serious potential.
The pilot for the mesocosms was pretty rough considering we spent 2 hours on shore sifting sediment during a low midge-density period. Only one pilot actually deployed and there was a whole new set of problems installing zooplankton collection devices. (Shouts out to Tony and Michael for sticking it out on a long, cold, turbulent day on the lake! You guys are the best!) Yes, I trudged back to Gunther with 3 unsuccessful pilot mesocosms and wet boots, but my spirit was not deflated. It’s back to the drawing board for me and the challenge actually makes it really fun. Both ideas are still going to work, but it’s like wiggling a key in a lock, I’ll get it eventually.
I’ll have revisions of my project all set up in a few weeks. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!
Also here's a completely irrelevant photo of Alena, me, and a puffin!

29 June, 2014

June field season 2014

I'm Tony, one of the PIs for our Wisconsin project at Mývatn. I just returned to Madison after a month at Mývatn helping our leaders, Cristina and Kyle, set up this year's field work and doing some planning for the future. By the time I left, pretty much everything was up and running. We have an exceptional group of interns helping us – Lauren, Michael, Alena, and Ashley. They seem set for a great summer. Joe, a new graduate student on the project, is getting his first taste of Iceland. And of course one of the main reasons for my trip was to spend time with Árni, the Mývatn Research Station director who has discovered more about the ecology and archeology of the Mývatn area than anybody else.

This was the fourth consecutive June I've had at Mývatn, which is becoming a home away from home. I sometimes get asked what the area is like, not just the highlights, but also the normal things. Nothing is really normal at Mývatn, but I thought it might help to put together a collage of photos taken in sequence during a day when I traveled around the lake to fertilize some experimental plots that Claudio and I set up two years ago. Fertilization days are my vacation because I get to do the trip on bike.

Kálfaströnd, Ella and Frida's farm where we stay

The road out the Kálfaströnd peninsula, with the mountains Bláfjall (left) and Sellandafjall

The southeast corner of Mývatn looking north towards Kálfaströnd

The Mývatn Research Station in Skútustaðir

The metropolis of Skútustaðir

The fertilization plot at the farm Haganes at the southwest corner of Mývatn

Midges at Haganes

The River Laxá that drains Mývatn. The fishing is supposed to be spectacular, but is highly regulated (and expensive).
The fertilization plots at Helluvaðstjörn, the site where Claudio's lab has extensive long-term projects set up
Midges don't bite, but black flies do.

The North Basin of Mývatn looking south

The largest settlement on the lake, Reykjahlíð

The verslun in Reykjahlíð, where we often shop to get the occasional supplies between major shopping trips to Akureyri

A hot water pond produced by the geothermal plant at the base of Námafjall -- not for swimming

View of Bláfjall from Námafjall

Good pasture with Hverfell in the background

Returning to Kálfaströnd with Sellandafjall in the background